Jerry and I have spent every Thanksgiving for decades -- in his case, 30-some years, predating our getting together -- with good friends in Arcata, in Humboldt county in Northern California. He met these folks when they were back-fence neighbors in Berkeley; their daughter Heidi was three at the time. She's now 40-something, married, with teenagers. Victor died, tragically, off the coast of Kauai, a couple of years ago. He drowned while trying to rescue his grandchildren from a rip current; they rode it safely back to shore, but Victor never made it. His wife, Sondra, is now matriarch of the clan.
Last year, the entire Arcata contingent -- Sondra, Heidi and her husband Jon, and their kids Sadie Rose and Elliot -- drove to Portland to spend the holiday with us. My brother Larry and nephew Josh, plus my mother and sister Karen, were here as well. This year it was our turn to make the trip south. We invested in a set of traction tires in case we encountered snow in the mountain passes. We lucked out on that score, but man, did it rain! With the exception of the half-hour we stopped for lunch, it poured nonstop, and torrentially, the entire way. At one point, on 199 beyond Grant's Pass, it was like going through a carwash. I've never seen it rain so relentlessly.
But it was wonderful to see our old friends again, and to spend some time with Larry, Josh (who just turned 12 and is a total computer geek), and Larry's girlfriend Kate. We stayed in a very nice suite, furnished in Ikea, overlooking the incredibly entertaining goings-on in Arcata Plaza. Larry & Co. had a two-bedroom unit next door, with an artsy Oriental vibe to it, and an even better view of the Plaza circus. The five of us got in a couple of good long walks through Arcata Marsh, a combined municipal wastewater treatment site and bird sanctuary that our friend Victor had helped make happen when he was mayor.
Heidi prepared soup and salad for the multitudes on Wednesday night. Friends of Sondra's had offered to host Thanksgiving dinner itself, since they had room to spare. Friday evening was leftovers, of course, which Sondra orchestrated and we visitors hosted in our palatial digs at the Plaza. By 6:15 Saturday morning, Jer and I were on the road again, fortified with turkey sandwiches for en route. The weather gods smiled on us this time; it was dry the whole way, and the drive was as glorious as an 8-hour car trip can be.
The only trouble with "away" years is that we get hardly any leftovers. So, after we got home, I decided to brine a turkey -- which I've wanted to try, but last year was just too intense, what with family and other distractions -- and invite a couple of friends for Thanksgiving Redux on Monday night. I made mushroom-leek dressing to go with it, Jer cooked sweet potatoes and green beans, and we had leftover cranberry relish (the horseradish and sour cream variation that Susan Stamberg used to give out on NPR). I also made an apple cake, which we served a la mode. The gravy turned out perfectly, and the brining really did make a difference in the moistness and flavor of the turkey. It's not that big a deal; you just have to think of it the day before.
So now we have about three gallons of turkey stock in the freezer, and enough light and dark meat for a couple of the stew/ragout/soup recipes I've been looking forward to cooking, or having Chef Jerub cook. Now it feels like we've well and truly done Thanksgiving.